What's it like to live in Boulder, CO?


Profile written by local expert:

Katy Marquardt

Snug against the foothills where the Great Plains give rise to the Rocky Mountains, Boulder is nothing if not a looker. This city reveals its spectacle at the crest of a hill on U.S. Route 36 from Denver with its iconic sandstone slabs rising from the mountains, prefaced by pine-clad mesas and cradled within the backdrop of the snow-capped Indian Peaks. 

For residents seeking wellness, Boulder has opportunities from city-led forest bathing and free meditation sessions to an abundance of marijuana dispensaries, spas and alternative health care studios. The full spectrum of yoga disciplines is represented here, as well as a plethora of fitness options to ignite your curiosity, including parkour, aerial dance and “Animal Flow” ground-based movement classes. People looking to bring balance to their work life can find job perks that include participation in the city’s annual Tube to Work Day. Had it with the 9 to 5? Make like Boulder’s dirtbag climbers and live in a van, work odd jobs and become a fixture at the area’s legendary crags.

This blissed-out enclave attracts young professionals, families, academics, scientists, transplants from both coasts, old guards who insist it was way cooler in the 1970s and, above all, lovers of outdoor recreation. Trail runners, hikers, climbers, cyclists and more move here to live in this perpetual playground, where the answer to “What do you do?” is often one’s activity of choice, not occupation.


Rankings

U.S. News analyzed 150 metro areas in the United States to find the best places to live based on quality of life and the job market in each metro area, as well as the value of living there and people's desire to live there.

Boulder, Colorado is ranked:

#1 in Best Places to Live

#53 in Best Places to Retire

#1 in Best Places to Live for Quality of Life

#1 in Best Places to Live in Colorado

#7 in Safest Places to Live

7.8

Overall

Scorecard

Best Places to Live

  • Desirability
    8.6
  • Value
    6.3
  • Job Market
    8.7
  • Quality of Life
    8.3
  • Net Migration
    6.9

Read how we rank places

Boulder, CO Quick Stats

  • 321,030

    Metro Population

  • $64,690

    Average Annual Salary

  • N/A

    Avg High/Low Temps

  • 36.2

    Median Age

  • $524,417

    Median Home Price

  • N/A

    AVG Annual Rainfall

  • 2.4%

    Unemployment Rate

  • $1,411

    Median Monthly Rent

  • 22.8 minutes

    Avg Commute Time

What is there to do in Boulder, CO?

With some 40,000 acres open to the public in Boulder County, more than 60 parks and 155 miles of hiking trails, lovers of the outdoors are minutes from their next adventure. Nearby Boulder Canyon is studded with climbing crags and serves as the fastest route to the high country, including Eldora Mountain Resort for skiing and snowboarding and numerous trailheads that lead to the alpine lakes and valleys of the Indian Peaks Wilderness. Rocky Mountain National Park is a little more than an hour’s drive away, as are many of Colorado’s famous ski resorts – theoretically, as traffic to and from the mountains on Interstate 70 can significantly lengthen travel time.

Downtown Boulder is perpetually lively, with shops, restaurants, prime people-watching and street performers on the Pearl Street Mall. In the warmer months, the Boulder County Farmers Market offers a twice-weekly opportunity to meet up with friends, shop the freshest produce from local farms and enjoy live music or picnic by the creek. The city has a thriving restaurant scene spanning street food to fine dining, and sampling beers from Boulder’s numerous craft breweries is a common afternoon pastime. 

Boulder has a strong arts community, with galleries, museums and opportunities to see live theater, musical acts and other performing arts. During the summer, festivals can easily fill up your calendar; local favorites include the Colorado Shakespeare Festival at Mary Rippon Outdoor Theatre on the CU campus and the Colorado Music Festival, which showcases acclaimed classical musicians at Boulder’s historic Chautauqua Auditorium.


What's the cost of living in Boulder, CO?

Living “in the Boulder bubble,” as it’s sometimes called, comes at a steep price. A halo of open space and rural land surrounds the city, limiting the amount of new housing construction and driving up prices for existing homes. Establishing more affordable housing options is an ongoing topic among city leaders and advocates as Boulder and other metro areas in the Front Range urban corridor abutting the mountains receive an influx of new residents.

Boulder’s combined rate of state, county and city sales taxes is quite high, as are median property taxes.


Looking for financial advice? Find a local financial advisor in Boulder, Colorado.

Value Index

Index Score: 6.3 /10

How we calculate this.


Boulder offers a lower value than similarly sized metro areas when you compare housing costs to median household income.

Housing Costs 2019


Boulder
$524,417

USA
$232,933

Housing Costs Over Time

Data sourced from Zillow median home sale price data series. Additional data provided by the Austin Board of Realtors, Houston Association of Realtors, Intermountain MLS, Omaha Area Board of Realtors, San Antonio Board of Realtors, and the Salt Lake Board of Realtors.

Buying or selling a home? Find top real estate agents in Boulder, CO.

What's the weather like in Boulder, CO?

Boulder enjoys plenty of days with clear skies and generous sunshine. Late spring and early fall can be particularly enchanting with mild temperatures. Summer conjures a dry heat despite Boulder’s over-5,000-foot elevation but is game on for a host of outdoor activities, from mountain biking to climbing to standup paddleboarding on Boulder Reservoir.

Winter is not what many out-of-staters expect: Because Boulder sits against the foothills, it can remain dry during long stretches of winter while the mountains are smothered in snow. But Boulderites get their fair share of flurries, as snow often starts flying in October and can even make an appearance in May. After a heavy snowfall, residents dig out, strap on their traction devices or cross-country skis and hit the trails. Soon after, road bikes, e-bikes and some “fat bikes” with their extra-wide tires repopulate the streets and trails as the warming sunshine quickly melts the snow. 

Far more than snow or rain, wind can occasionally put a damper on outdoor activities. Especially in the cooler months, Boulder is prone to the sometimes-relentless Chinook winds that blast down the east side of the Rockies, clocking 60 mph or more.


What's the best way to get around Boulder, CO?

Boulder is easy to navigate by car, although an extensive network of bike paths and a reliable public transportation system make biking or hopping on the bus an easy choice.

Cycling culture is big in Boulder. After a snowfall, you’ll find the city’s bike paths are often cleared before many of the roads. Buses have bike racks, bike rentals are ubiquitous, cycling clubs abound and Bike to Work Day is celebrated like a local holiday. The city contains more than 300 miles of bikeway, including on-street bike lanes, multiuse paths, paved shoulders and designated bike routes. 

The Regional Transportation District, commonly referred to as RTD, operates most of Boulder’s buses. These crisscross the city and frequently run to Denver, Denver International Airport and other destinations in the metro area. The city is pedestrian-friendly, filled with multiuse paths, hiking trails and the four-block Pearl Street pedestrian-only walkway at Boulder’s downtown core.


Commuting in Boulder, CO

Means of Transportation
Driving
73%
Below national average

Bicycling
4%
Above national average

Walking
5%
Above national average

Public Transit
5%
Equal to national average
Average Commute Time

22.8 minutes

3.8 minutes less than national average

Average Commute Times by Zip Code

Data sourced from the U.S. Census Bureau's American Community Survey.

Who lives in Boulder, CO?

Take a stroll on the Pearl Street Mall, hike up Mount Sanitas, grab a coffee at Beleza Coffee Bar or a beer at the Rayback Collective, and it’s obvious that Boulder is packed with young professionals: techies, entrepreneurs, creatives and more. You’ll also see students around town, especially on “the Hill” near the campus of the University of Colorado-Boulder, the state’s flagship university. Families also account for a big presence in Boulder, attracted by the city’s relaxed vibe and schools that consistently rank among the best in the state.

The Boulder area has a highly educated population, with nearly three-fourths of residents holding a bachelor’s degree or higher and approximately 39% of the population holding an advanced degree.


Age Distribution

Marital Status Breakdown


About the same number of single people in Boulder as national average

Data sourced from the U.S. Census Bureau's American Community Survey.